South by Southwest

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South by Southwest by Chris Green

I have been sitting around the house all winter waiting for the call. I have been waiting so long that I have had time to set up a profitable giclée printing business. ‘Just be ready,’ I was told. That was last October. I have frequently wondered whether the phone they gave me actually works. It looks very basic. I don’t even know the number. When I try to find out by phoning my landline from it, it comes back with number not recognised. Like everything else in this game, anonymity seems to be the key. I’m wondering whether the people who have signed me up, whoever they might be, have changed their minds about giving me a mission. They may have decided that as I was dismissed from the service that I am a bad risk. But there again, they must realise I am cheaper than others who might have similar experience in the field.

I am in the middle of my morning ablutions when it happens. I hear Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head playing. At first, I wonder where the tinny tune is coming from, but quickly track it down to the black Nokia.

Meet me at the railway station at 1100,’ says a female voice, with a trace of an accent I cannot place.

How will I recognise you?’ I ask.

She replies that there is no need for me to recognise her. She knows what I look like. ‘And bring everything you might need for a week away from home,’ she says.

I take this to mean I should include the Glock in my luggage. While I would not describe myself as a hitman, in the field it is important to be armed. It gives you that extra sense of security.

Laura does not know I am a sleeper agent. I phone and tell her not to expect me around for a few days. She seems to take it well, too well perhaps. She does not even ask why. As we have been seeing each other for three years, you would have thought she might have shown more of an interest. I have the feeling it may be because she wants more commitment. Or perhaps she feels I have been drinking too much lately.

I make a habit of arriving for a meet ten minutes early. This gives me the opportunity to do a reccy. If I do not know the person I am meeting which is frequently the case, I challenge myself to spot them before they introduce themselves. I have quite a good success rate. On this occasion, I not able to. The concourse is crowded. Most of the people milling around look suspicious. They are all dressed like extras from North by Northwest. Perhaps there is a fifties overcoat and hat convention somewhere. Eventually, a woman in a fashionable dark suit with a wide-brimmed hat seems to come out of nowhere. She hands me a black folder.

The instructions are here,’ she says. She looks me in the eye. It is a firm stare. ‘You will find a number to call when it is done. Phone from a public call box. You will notice a deposit in your bank account.’

Before I know it, her shapely silhouette is disappearing into the throng of passengers. I make my way to a quiet seat outside the station complex. I open the folder and carefully read the instructions. I am to liquidate Maxwell Pagan. So it is a hit after all. But, what was I expecting my clandestine mission to involve? Recovering a stolen bicycle? Helping a cat down from a tree? In the murky world of undercover operations, it’s never likely to be a walk in the park. If there were not an element of danger, they would not be employing my services.

There is a grainy close-up of Pagan wearing a trilby and a mid-range shot of him in a blue double-breasted suit. All very old school, but how could anyone recognise him from these? Pagan is believed to be somewhere in the South West of England. There are details of several sightings in Devon and Cornwall. I should check out these locations as a starting point.

They have provided me with a rail ticket to Exeter. Second class. And booked me into a hotel under the name, Foster Grant. Who thinks up these names? I check my bank account on my iPhone. The deposit could not be considered generous for a hit but what did I expect from these cheapskates? Their initial retainer ran out in the first week. What do they imagine I’ve been living on all this time while I’ve been waiting for the call? I’ve no doubt they would argue that as I am freelance, I am open to other offers. But they must realise it is difficult for an out of favour agent to find work. In this business, there seems to be a zero-tolerance towards drinking and word quickly gets around. It’s a good thing that I have been able to apply printing skills to counterfeiting to keep the wolf from the door.

I do not know the South West well, so on the train, I get the laptop out and take a good look at Google Maps to acquaint myself with the lie of the land. Devon and Cornwall have hundreds of miles of spectacular coastline. There are worse places to find yourself for a week. The downside is that with the sightings of Pagan being so far apart, there is a huge area to cover, much of it wild. I decide that when I get to Exeter, I’ll hire a four by four.

Who exactly is Maxwell Pagan? The dossier is short on facts. I have no age, no address, no phone number, no car registration, no profession, no family information, no character traits, no clubs or organisations, no affiliations, no interests. Just a couple of photos and a list of sightings. Apparently, he is five foot nine. I look around the train. Nearly everyone is about five foot nine, even the women. Unsurprisingly, an internet search is of no help. There are several Maxwell or Max Pagans across the pond, but the search engines give me nothing closer to home. I search the UK Electoral Register, onlinelandregistry and DVLA. Not a single Maxwell Pagan.

People assume that undercover agents work for security organisations like MI5 or MI6, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. None of the organisations I have worked for has any monikers. We are just loose groups of individuals given instructions from people we don’t know. We don’t have colleagues. We don’t work in open-plan offices where we talk about Champions League football in our breaks. Nor do we go out on ops together in unmarked cars with gizmos and gadgets. We are merely operatives paid for doing a job that might or might not be legal.

I am at the Café Alf Resco at the harbour-side in Dartmouth, enjoying an afternoon cocktail. It’s quite relaxing listening to the jazz playing and looking at the boats. But wait, isn’t that man in the unseasonable trench-coat with the dark glasses the same one I saw at Exeter station? If it is, it could indicate that I am on the right track and someone else is looking for Maxwell Pagan. Perhaps they are tailing me thinking I know what I am doing. But it could mean they are after me and waiting for the right moment to strike.

Does that man come here a lot?’ I ask the well turned-out barista. His name badge says, Mario. He doesn’t look Italian.

Which geezer would you be talking about, guv?’ he says. He doesn’t sound Italian.

The one with the big coat on,’ I say.

Couldn’t say, mate,’ he says. ‘We get so many weirdos around here that I don’t take a lot of notice. Know what I mean. It’s the Naval connection, innit.’ He’s not from around here, either. He’s probably from my neck of the woods.

So you wouldn’t have noticed this one either,’ I say, showing him the photos.

No, ‘fraid not, squire.’ he says with a practised air of distraction. I get the impression that he would say this even if he had seen Pagan. Perhaps I should have left the enquiry until after I’d tipped him and slipped it in on the way out.

Trench-coat does not appear to follow me when I leave Café Alf Resco, but here he is again at Tangerine Tree in Totnes. He is tracking me somehow. Should I search my hired Freelander for a GPS tracker? He must have realised that it is going to be warmer than yesterday because he has got rid of the coat. He has a summer jacket on but I wouldn’t be betting that he isn’t packing a gun. Perhaps he thinks the Rayban sunglasses render him unrecognisable. Doesn’t he realise that I have been on courses? I debate whether to approach him and ask him politely why he is following me, whether to point a gun at his head in the car park or whether to suggest we pool our resources to find Pagan.

None of these happens. I don’t know how I come to be tailing him in his big Nissan, but I manage to stay behind him all the way across country to Mortehoe. Technically speaking, it is not my fault he drives over a cliff, but testimony to my driving skills that I do not follow him. I do not think there are any witnesses, which is handy as there is bound to be an investigation.

Witnessing an accident in the field is always traumatic. It is something you come across time and time again in this line of work but you never get used to it. You can never be sure of the facts and there is no way to go back and check. What’s done is done. That’s it. Move on. But still!

I find some suitably cathartic music on the radio, Sibelius I think, and take a B Road back to Exeter. This takes me through Exmoor National Park, a unique landscape of moorland that goes on forever. I am not in a sightseeing frame of mind. I might as well be on the moon. I have a medicinal shot or two at Cullompton Services. When I get back to my room at the Travelodge, I find a woman in my bed, which is nice, but I wasn’t expecting one.

Room service is improving,’ I say.

Save the smartass for later,’ she says. ‘Now, let’s get you in a good mood then we can discuss how we’re going to find Maxwell Pagan.’

This is certainly a surprising offer but not an unwelcome one, and she seems particularly adept at cheering a lonely man up. Half an hour later I feel much more optimistic.

I’m Olga,’ she says, by way of a belated introduction. Whether or not this is her name doesn’t really matter.

I’m Foster,’ I say. Whether or not this is my name doesn’t really matter. ‘I guess it’s time to review the case then Olga, wouldn’t you say? What have you got?’

She takes out a folder similar to the one I have but red and hands me a wad of large-format photos of Pagan. If you saw this person, you would recognise him easily from these pictures. They are clear and sharp. Also, they look as though they might have been taken around these parts.

This one’s in Penzance,’ she says. ‘And, there’s Fowey. Then we have Plymouth, I think. This one’s Truro. …..’

This one is Exeter,’ I say. ‘And is that one with him in front of the estate agents, Torquay?’

Babbacombe,’ she says. ‘Then there’s Bude and Padstow.’

He moves around a fair bit,’ doesn’t he?’ I say, examining a photo from force of habit to see how much it has been Photoshopped.

While I am doing this Olga unfolds an A3 spreadsheet listing all the locations where Pagan has allegedly been sighted within the last month, along with the times of day. She is a mine of information. Why she needs me is not obvious.

It is not until the next morning that I discover why. Olga has disappeared, along with my gun. This might be a staple of spy thrillers but it has never happened to me before. I have never been done over like this. I must be getting rusty. At least, I have avoided the other clichés, like being knocked unconscious, interrogated and tortured, or tied up and left in a dark room. But how could I have been so trusting? What was I told all those years ago? Trust no one, not even me. I can hear, my instructor, Boris Whitlock saying it.

I cannot face the thought of breakfast at the Travelodge. Perhaps this has something to do with all the supercilious drones there will be sitting around in their business suits, checking their Outlook calendars and tweeting away on their smartphones. More likely though it is to do with my hangover. How much did I have to drink last night? Instead of breakfast, I take the Freelander for a drive down the estuary with the windows open to the little town of Dawlish, home of the black swan as it advertises itself.

In the field, you constantly face the risk of things going wrong. You have to brace yourself for setbacks, accustom yourself to occasional misfortune. You establish procedures which minimise the risk. This is something you learn over time. Perhaps you never stop learning. So, what is the lesson here? There’s no such thing as a free lunch, perhaps.

I need to go somewhere quiet where I can regroup and decide what to do next. After all, I have been in difficult situations before. I just need to compose myself. My rule of thumb is to give it fifty-five minutes to adjust to any new situation. A new strategy should then present itself.

I settle on a table outside a café on the Strand and order a full English breakfast. It is then that I catch sight of him. It is definitely Pagan. He is going into Pearson Ranger Estate Agents. Might this explain the sightings? He is buying property in the South West. I realise that land and property ownership can be a contentious issue, but it is not usually a reason to kill someone. On the other hand, someone must have a reason or I would not be here now. I do not know who has ordered the killing. Mine is not to reason why. I am being paid, however badly, to do a job. Why do I do it? I don’t know. I suspect that I am just a bad man.

So, to the task at hand. Now that I have found Pagan I can tail him, but Olga has my gun. There are other ways to take someone out, but in my line of work, the bullet is by far the most popular method. Olga may, of course, appear anytime and do the job for me. She might be hiding around the corner, or in the back seat of his car waiting for him to return for all I know. It seems likely she is being paid by a different agency to the one who is paying me. My people don’t appear to be the type to pay two hitmen. But what the hell! Is any of this important? Why don’t I just hand the money back and go back to my giclée printing?

I hear the great Boris Whitlock’s booming baritone, from all those years ago in the underground bunker in the secret location that wasn’t even on OS maps, saying, ‘failure is not an option. No matter what difficult circumstances may arise, you must always complete your mission.’

With this in mind, I sidle down the street to Pearson Ranger and look in the window. I cannot see very much of the inside but I can’t help noticing that all the houses advertised in the window except for one have been marked, SOLD. What an odd situation! I realise that property has been on the up and Dawlish might be a popular location, but surely the market can’t be that buoyant. I remember some friends of mine telling me only last week that they had had to drop the price to get a sale. Boris Whitlock’s voice starts up once again. I begin to wonder how I can complete my mission. Could I strangle Pagan with my tie or my belt?

Pagan emerges from Pearson Ranger. He does not appear to notice me but then why would he? Why would he be aware of my existence? I keep an eye on him as he crosses the road. He is exactly how he looked in Olga’s photos. Displaying an air of self-confidence he goes into the estate agents on the other side of the road. Placing myself outside, I can see at a glance that except for one, all the houses advertised have big stickers on saying SOLD.

I can’t just go in and strangle him. I have to wait for him to come out and then …….. Before I can work out my strategy, Olga drives up and parks her car. I don’t know whether to be puzzled, shocked or angry.

How did you know I would be here?’ I say. ‘Or for that matter, Pagan?’

I’m guessing you don’t even remember the conversation we had last night,’ she says. ‘When I saw the empty whiskey bottle this morning, I didn’t think you would be up for much today, so I went on ahead to do a reccy. I’ve been all around Dawlish and Teignmouth this morning. You’d be surprised just how many estate agents there are here.’

What!’ I say.

Last night we reasoned that this morning we would discover Pagan buying up property in Dawlish and Teignmouth.’

We did? How did we work that out?’

I told you. ……….. Don’t you remember? I had a call from my …….. researcher. And from his information, we worked out that Pagan would be here today. ……… Perhaps you felt bad at having brought so little to the table.’

Well, I must have remembered something about Dawlish at some level. I mean, I came here, didn’t I?’ I say, trying desperately to recover some ground.

You do remember us finding out the reason that we have been given the task of getting rid of Pagan, don’t you?’

Do I?’ I say, trying to remember something, anything, of last night’s drunken conversation.

He is buying up Devon and Cornwall house by house, little by little, piece by piece and we have been assigned to stop him. You don’t remember saying you couldn’t understand how someone who had been making such obvious moves had left so little trace.’

It does ring a bell, now you come to mention it, yes.’

Pagan, of course, is not his real name. But, Foster, and I don’t suppose that is your real name either, the fellow in there already owns large chunks of Devon and Cornwall. He is rich beyond belief and yet no-one seems to know who he is. He might have made his money out of mining or telecoms, gas pipelines or media ownership, currency manipulation, pharmaceuticals, illegal drugs even. Nobody knows. Anonymously, he is building an empire down here in the South West. All I can tell you is that my people don’t want him to build an empire down here in the South West.’

I don’t suppose you know who your people are either,’ I say.

Do you know who your people are?’

No, I don’t. I’ve absolutely no idea. But if what you say is true your people and my people, whether or not they are the same ones, must stand to gain from getting Pagan out of the way, or they wouldn’t be doing it.’

And they pay us peanuts.’

Same old, isn’t it?’

Let’s get on with it then.’

Well, Olga, and I don’t suppose that is your real name either,’ I say. ‘You’ve got the gun.’

What gun? I don’t have a gun. Why do you think I teamed up with you?’

But you have my gun,’ I say.

What! I don’t. …….. Oh no! You mean you’ve lost your gun too.’

© Chris Green 2019: All rights reserved

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The Schrödingers’ Cat

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The Schrödingers’ Cat by Chris Green

Each, evening, Mr and Mrs Schödinger liked to walk their salt and pepper schnauzer, Ernst along the Promenade. Mrs Schrödinger would take the opportunity to window-shop in the fashion boutiques while Mr Schrödinger used the time to fantasise about what he would like to do to Hermione Shakespeare in the office where he worked as a designer. Mr and Mrs Schrödinger had not lived in the seaside town in the west of England very long. They came over from their native Austria to follow their leisure interests, there being few opportunities for surfing or yachting in landlocked Linz.

Their evening constitutionals with Ernst took them past a new pet shop that had opened next to the holistic gifts boutique that Mrs Schrödinger liked. In amongst the mice and gerbils in the window of For Pets Sake, there was a picture of four kittens. Good homes were wanted for these said the advert.

I think we should have one,’ Mrs Schrödinger said. ‘Just look at them. Aren’t they adorable? And a cat would be company for Ernst while we are out on the boat. It would help to calm him down.’

Mr Schrödinger felt that Ernst was calm enough. A more placid schnauzer you couldn’t wish to find.

Some schnauzers can be quite vicious,’ he added. ‘George Pagan’s giant schnauzer, Bruiser would bite you as soon as look at you. But Ernst doesn’t even bark at the postman.

As always, Mrs Schrödinger was able to get her own way. The wrong side of forty she might be but she still had potent weapons in her carnal armoury. So long as Hermione Shakespeare remained no more than a twinkle in Mr Schrödinger’s eye, she would be able to retain her power over him. The mackerel tabby kitten duly arrived chez Schrödinger.

You have probably heard stories connecting the name, Schrödinger with cats, not all of these ending well. Perhaps no more than half of them ending well. Let’s dispel the notion that the new kitten will be subject to a thought experiment. This is not going to happen.

Mrs Schrödinger called the kitten, Lucy, even though it turned out to be a boy cat. Lucy quickly settled into a routine of annoying Ernst. There are so many ways in which a cat can wind a dog up and Lucy quickly mastered them. She even added some new ones. She chewed up Ernst’s soft toys, sat on his head when he was trying to sleep and went to toilet in his food bowl. Once or twice, she even managed to get a bark out of the laconic hound. Lucy was, of course, quickly neutered at Vets4Pets but this made little difference to her delinquency. There was no doubt about it, Lucy was a spirited cat.

She has the devil in her, that one,’ Aura, Mrs Schrödinger’s yoga teacher said. ‘Did you know, cats can see ghosts and angels and even demons?’

One evening, when Mr and Mrs Schrödinger were taking a trip around the bay in their boat, Lucy disappeared. When she had not returned by lunchtime the next day, they began to quiz the neighbours. Neither the Nancarrows next door or the Trescothicks across the street had seen her. Rosey Parker who knew everything that went on for miles around said she had heard nothing. Mr Singh who ran the convenience store on the corner seemed completely disinterested.

Your Lucy will be back in a day or two, Mrs Schrödinger,’ Penny Penhaligon in the hairdressers told her. ‘You mark my words. Cats like to go off to explore now and then. It’s in their nature. My Bruce is always going walkabout.’

You haven’t been here long, have you?’ Salty Jack at the Sailing Club said. ‘You’ll discover all kinds of strange things go on down here in Cornwall once you’ve been here a while. Cornwall is the home of mystery and magic.

The plea they stuck onto lampposts around the neighbourhood offering a handsome reward for Lucy’s safe return brought no response, except for a nimiety of bohemian-types collecting for new-age charities.

Mrs Schrödinger was beside herself. With the inevitable dropping off of her libido, Mr Schrödinger turned his attention once more to fantasies about Hermione Shakespeare and he even started going in to work early in the hope of wooing her. Meanwhile, without Lucy around, Ernst perked up considerably.

On the fifth or sixth evening, Mr and Mrs Schrödinger had just returned from walking Ernst when there was a hesitant knock at the door. An elderly stranger with a hangdog expression stood across the threshold.

I’m really sorry to have to call, like this,’ he said. ‘My name’s Breok. You may have seen me in passing. I live just down the road at number 55. I’m afraid I’ve found your cat at the bottom of my back garden. I looked at the collar and it had your address on it so here I am. I think the poor animal may have been attacked by a dog or a fox or something. Anyway, the cat was dead so I put it in a box. I don’t know what you want me to do with it. Perhaps you might want to bury it. If you do, I will bring the box round.

Distraught, Mr and Mrs Schrödinger identified the dead cat. It was unmistakably Lucy and Lucy unquestionably dead. Several days dead. Tears were shed, then silence prevailed, as a funereal atmosphere descended on the Schrödinger household. Even Ernst went into a protracted sulk.

The following morning, to their amazement, Lucy came bounding up the stairs. How could this be? The Schrödingers looked at one another, both waiting for the other to come up with an explanation. None was available. It was seemingly impossible. Yet, the cat meowing furiously to be fed was definitely Lucy. Exact same markings, same scratch under the left eye where Ernst had finally reacted to her constant agitation, the same Kittyrama collar with her name and address. There was no doubt about it, this was their cat.

Mrs Schrödinger was ecstatic and Mr Schrödinger was pleased as this meant their normal conjugals might be resumed. The previous day’s humiliation when Hermione Shakespeare had slapped his face could be put to the back of his mind. Ernst, of course, was crestfallen that the cat had returned.

Like its counterpart in the famous thought experiment, the Schrödingers’ cat appeared to be both dead and alive. Perhaps there would never be an explanation.

I said Lucy would be back,’ Penny Penhaligon said when Mrs Schrödinger called in for her weekly trim. ‘My Bruce always comes back with his tail between his legs.’

Why don’t we have a nice cup of tea and you can tell me all about it?’ Rosey Parker said.

I told you mysterious things happen here in Cornwall,’ Salty Jack said. ‘It’s considered the birthplace of myths and legends for good reason, you know. Theres magic in the air. The laws of cause and effect don’t apply here.

© Chris Green 2019: All rights reserved

A Sword In Every Pond

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A Sword In Every Pond by Chris Green

You have never in your life been to Stockport. You weren’t even aware that it was a town in Greater Manchester. So where are these phantom thoughts coming from? Conversations about black puddings with Ruby Leighton in the Asian convenience store off Warren Street. Supping stout in the snug at The Whippet with Beryl Braithwaite. Teaching textiles to truculent sixteen-year-olds on Tuesday evenings at Stockport College. These visitations, if you can call them that, started earlier today, when you and Lance were walking along the Cornwall coastal path between Bedruthan Steps and Porthcothan. Your consciousness was breached by rogue meanderings about Stockport. You have been unable to stop them since. Several times you have found yourself lapsing into Mancunian dialect with something being dead this and dead that, and coming out with ee oop and our kid.

So far you have managed to cover these slips so that Lance hasn’t noticed. He’d just say that you were being a hysterical woman. Sometimes you wonder if Lance notices anything about you, or whether he regards you as part of the furniture. But, where is all this coming from? You are scared. Cornwall is said to be the spookiest place in Britain but there’s spooky and there’s spooky. You mostly read about things going bump in the night in remote smugglers’ inns or legendary beasts roaming misty moors, not daemons fighting for control of your consciousness on coastal cliff paths.

The hallucinations continue most of the night. False memory cuts in and out, like a short-wave radio signal in a tropical storm. You are bathed in sweat. You’ve never got past page ten of Finnegan’s Wake, but this is like a cerebral implant of the whole novel. The spiritual turbulence just goes on and on. Eventually, you get up and do an hour’s Tai Chi. This seems to help to exorcise the daemon. Things are a little quieter this morning. Your thoughts have returned to received pronunciation.

……………………………………….…

You have driven along the coast to settle yourself. You are in Tintagel.

Mon Dieu!’ You have not spoken in French before, not even in France. ‘Ici on parle Français,’ the shop said, so you are parling Français. You are telling the shop assistant that you are from Bretagne and that your name is Camille. Where has this come from?

Nous recevons beaucoup de gens ici de Bretagne,’ she says.

Votre français est très bon,’ you say.

Merci,’ she says. ‘Je suis allé en Bretagne l’année dernière.’

Cornwall et Bretagne partagent une riche histoire maritime,’ you say.

Nous sommes les mêmes personnes,’ she says. ‘Les Cornish et les Bretons.’

You tell her that you are here to learn about the mythical kingdom of Avalon.

Many French people come here because they are fascinated by the Arthurian legend. Everything in Tintagel has some connection with it’ she says. ‘You will have noticed The King Arthur Arms next door. All the shops are named Camelot or Pendragon. Locals even name their pets after the Knights of the Round Table.’

You should be in a state of utter panic at becoming Camille, one set of thoughts and words being replaced by another, but this time you seem to be going with the flow. You are a teacher and you have come to Cornwall with your partner, Luc. Luc is a keen surfer and has gone off to Fistral for the day to catch the swell and you are taking photos of Tintagel for a course on Avalon you are planning.

This is why I have come,’ you say, taking out your Canon Eos.

You must expect strange things to happen while you are here,’ she says.

Is Cornwall then still a place of magic and sorcery?’ you ask.

There is magic in the air. You live it and breathe it,’ she says. ‘You cannot escape it. There is a sword in every pond.’

……………………………………….…

You can’t remember where you have left the car. In fact, you can’t remember what car it is you’re looking for. And you’ve bought a metal detector. Not to look for the car, but to look for hidden treasure. Perhaps you are seeking the Holy Grail. And …… you’ve turned into a man. You have checked. You have all your man bits. Your Santander bank card says that you are called D. A. Knight and your …… Gay Pride card confirms this. You are Daniel Knight. But, you can’t remember what car you’re supposed to have. You’re not sure even where you are. You think you are in Padstow. At least this is where you bought the metal detector, or was it Newquay? You remember thinking it was an odd item to find in a surf shop. Anyway, you have a pocketful of coins that you have found. This is how you discovered that you had turned into a man. What car should you be looking for? You have a recollection of a black Silhouette and a white Apparition but for some reason, you think it might be grey. Most cars are grey, so this does not help. Perhaps it’s a grey Golf. You need to phone Arthur. Arthur will know. Wait, you think, who is Arthur?

……………………………………….…

My partner, Patti is reading the visitors book. It is a habit she has when we go away. She likes to know what to expect. We are staying in West Cornwall. We have driven a long way and have just arrived at our accommodation.

Listen to this,’ she says.

Natasha and Lance say great holiday everything perfect except for the noisy people from Stockport who were staying next door.’

I shouldn’t worry too much. I expect the people from Stockport will have gone back by now,’ I say. ‘Where is Stockport, anyway?’

Camille and Luc from Brittany, France say Avoid Tintagel if you can. It’s no good at all for surfing.’

I don’t expect you can get much of a wifi signal with all those granite rocks,’ I say.

The visitors’ book has given me an idea though. I squeeze in beside Patti on the striped canvas settee to read it with her.

What about this one?’ I say. ‘Daniel and Arthur from Glastonbury, Somerset say great holiday except for the ironing board cover which lifts up with the shirts.’

Too much information,’ says Patti.

But, don’t you see? There is potential here,’ I say. ‘And ….. Look! They all stayed here in consecutive weeks.’

You mean, turn it into a story.’

Absolutely!’ I say.

© Chris Green 2019: All rights reserved

GUN

 

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GUN by Chris Green

Gary Bilk works as a tyre technician in Camborne, an old mining town in Cornwall. Most evenings after work, he picks up his girlfriend, Suzi Foxx from outside HairCraft salon and takes her to The Cock Inn. They have a bite to eat, play pool, darts or dominoes and chat with the regulars about rugby. Most girls that Gary has known have found the pubs he likes to frequent a little unsophisticated. They have shown little interest in rugby, or darts, or dominoes for that matter. Because of this, his previous romances have never lasted long, but he has been seeing Suzi for several weeks.

Gary himself does not play much rugby these days. After all, he will be forty soon and rugby is a game for younger and fitter men. But, he likes to go and watch his team, Camborne RFC, especially when they are having a good run. They are currently having a bad run, due to the loss of their fly-half, John Scorer and their blind-side flanker, Trev Padstow. No one is sure what happened to the pair. They mysteriously disappeared halfway through the season. Camborne have only won one game since.

Having been thrown out of his accommodation over rent arrears, Gary is staying at his friend, Curnow’s, this despite Curnow supporting Camborne’s great rivals Redruth RFC. Suzi’s flatmate Tamsyn apparently does not like the idea of Gary staying over. The flat is too small for that kind of thing, she says. So, after their chilli con carne or chicken and chips and a pint or two of cloudy Cornish cyder at The Cock, once or twice a week, Gary and Suzi get their rocks off in his Mitsubishi Lancer. He has made it more comfortable with a duck feather duvet and pillows, a can of California car scent and a DVD player with cinema surround sound.

It is on one such occasion in the car park behind Tesco that a gun falls out of Suzi’s handbag. At first, Gary thinks it is her phone that has dropped down between the seats. Suzi often loses her phone. It is not until after they have finished their business in the back seat that he realises that it is a handgun. Handguns are quite unusual in Cornwall. Gary has never seen one before. This is the type he understands from the movies to be a semi-automatic pistol.

Fucking hell, Suzi!’ he says. ‘What’s going on?’

Oh. Don’t worry about that,’ Suzi says. ‘It’s …… only a toy. It’s a present for ….. my colleague, Hannah’s son, er, Vincent. He will be ten next week.’

Gary picks it up. It does not feel to him like a toy gun. It seems too heavy and has too much detail. He remarks on this.

They are very realistic these days, aren’t they?’ Suzi says, taking it from him and slipping it back in her bag. ‘But, I suppose that is the point.’

But…..,’ he begins.

Suzi does not let him finish. She is practised at the art of distraction. When it comes down to it, she finds Gary is the same as all other men she has been with. They might just as well have an on-off button.

While Suzi has not been in the habit of lying to him, the incident begins to sew the seeds of doubt in Gary’s mind. On the way home, after dropping Suzi off, he is unable to rid himself of the thought that it might have been a real pistol and that Suzi may be concealing something sinister from him. What does he really know about her? He knows she is twenty nine – or thereabouts. She has a fleur-de-lys tattoo on her thigh and she is a Gemini. She takes more of an interest in sport than most women do and even seems to understand the rules of rugby.

He knows nothing about her background. He has a vague recollection of her saying early on in their relationship that both her parents were dead although he cannot be sure. You don’t take in everything that someone says early on in a relationship because you are more concerned with getting your own biography across. He knows from her accent that she is not from Cornwall but he is not good at placing dialects and she has never offered any details of her origins. She appears to have no children and has never mentioned any brothers or sisters. On occasions, without being specific, she has alluded to former lovers and so far as he can tell, she is not without sexual experience. But for a woman of …… let’s say thirty three, Suzi Foxx comes without obvious baggage.

When Gary goes to pick Suzi up outside HairCraft the following day, she is not there. Normally she is outside waiting for him. He waits impatiently on the double-yellows just down the road but still she does not arrive. He decides to park the Lancer and go in to remind Suzi that he is here. Maybe one of her hair appointments arrived late or something. He might get the opportunity to check out Hannah at the same time and ask her about Vincent and his birthday. A gun does seem to be a strange kind of present in these days of drug gangs and terrorism.

I’m sorry but we don’t have anyone called Suzi working here,’ the alarmingly young receptionist says. ‘I’m Teegan. Can I help?’

Gary realises he has never actually been into the salon before. Suzi always had him wait outside. ‘Is Hannah here then?’ he asks, out of desperation.

We have no-one called Hannah here either,’ Teegan says. ‘You could try the PoundStretcher shop next door.’

Gary tries her phone. It is switched off. It is nearly half past six. He makes his way to The Cock Inn. He is not sure what the misunderstanding is, but doubtless Suzi will turn up there, full of apologies.

No Suzi, tonight then, Gary?’ Big Hank says. Hank is the one who arranges the monthly country and western nights at The Cock. Once a month he dresses like Roy Rogers and rides to the pub on his horse and tethers it up outside. You can’t be done for drink-driving with a horse, he says each time. The joke is now a little stale.

I expect Suzi will be in later,’ Gary says.

Like that, is it?’ Jago says. Jago is the dominoes champion at The Cock. He is possibly the only one who understands the scoring or perhaps he makes up the rules as he goes along. All that Gary knows is that he has never beaten him.

She’s trouble, that one,’ Hank says.

Better off without her if you ask me,’ Jago says.

No one’s asking you,’ Gary says.

The guys are right, Gary. I don’t think you can trust her,’ Bodmin Bob the barman says. ‘I saw her at Newquay Airport today. She was catching a flight. Düsseldorf, I think it was.’ Bodmin Bob has just returned from London, having done business there. While everyone agrees that Bodmin Bob is dodgy, no one is quite sure what his business is. Some think he is a fraudster while others think he is a drug dealer. There is even speculation he might be a people trafficker or a hit man. No-one can explain why he is working as a barman at The Cock.

Gary can’t remember Suzi mentioning any plans to go to Germany. While he has to admit he sometimes switches off when she is talking, especially if he is watching a game, he is almost sure he would have remembered something like that. While he still wants to think the best of Suzi, what with the gun and the hairdressers and now this, it is becoming increasingly difficult. He doesn’t want to lose face here in the bar though. Not in front of Big Hank and Jago. He would never live it down.

Ah, I’ve just remembered,’ he says, in a flash of inspiration. ‘Suzi’s sister Heidi lives in Düsseldorf. And it’s her son Vincent’s birthday tomorrow. He will be ten. I remember her buying the present for him.’

That’s nice,’ Hank says. ‘What did she buy him?’

He is about to say a gun, but catches himself. ‘A rugby shirt,’ he says instead. ‘A Phil Scrummer number 8 jersey.’

They play a lot of rugby in Düsseldorf, do they?’ Jago says.

She should have bought him a gun,’ Hank says. ‘Ten year old boys like guns.’

After leaving The Cock, Gary drives round to the address that Suzi has given him for her and Tamsyn’s flat. He knocks loudly. He is determined to find out what is going on and if he can’t get the information from Suzi, then he will be able to get it from Tamsyn. The burly wrestler type that answers the door is visibly unhappy at being disturbed by a drunken dolt, claims no knowledge of the pair and instructs Gary to leave forthwith before he punches his lights out. His girlfriend’s web of lies appears to be extending.

Over the next few days, Gary keeps a low profile. There is no word from Suzi Foxx and her phone stays switched off. He is disappointed, embarrassed and angry. He does not like being made a fool of. He keeps his distance from Curnow, and at work, he indignantly greets customers and changes their tyres with extreme prejudice. He steers clear of The Cock Inn. He doesn’t even go along to Big Hank’s Country and Western night. He gives Camborne RFC’s final home game of the season against Redruth, said to be the fiercest rivalry in rugby, a miss. He isn’t even aware of the mysterious disappearance of Camborne winger, Will Wilson, before the game. Missing Will’s dynamic runs, Camborne lose by a single point and as a result, face relegation.

Curnow has found that people in this neck of the woods usually have the courtesy to knock when they come round to visit. Equally, SWAT team raids are unusual in Cornwall. So, he is doubly shocked when early one morning such a team forces its way into his house using a battering ram.

Hands in the air!’ the officer with the Breaking Bad beard screams.

Where is she?’ the one wearing Men In Black sunglasses hollers.

Who?’ Curnow asks. This meets with a blow to the head from the one with the Die Hard facial scars.

What’s the fuck’s going on?’ Gary asks, emerging groggily from his room. This meets with a blow to the head from Samuel L. Jackson.

We’re looking for Clara Hess. That’s who,’ Jean Claude Van Damme yells. ‘Now! Where is she?’

Who? What?’ Curnow says. He appears to be adjusting to his new role of crime suspect quickly.

We know that she has been at this address, knucklehead,’ Breaking Bad beard shouts. ‘Keep your hands in the air.’

The other four begin to roam, methodically trashing the place, tipping over furniture, tossing Curnow’s belongings here and there, as if Clara Hess might be hiding behind the bookcase, in the closet, under the settee, in the fridge.

Why are you wrecking my flat?’ Curnow says. ‘We have never heard of the person you are looking for. Where did you get this information?’

Aha! We have your friend Robert Trescothick in custody, birdbrain, and he has been very helpful,’ Breaking Bad beard sneers.

Who?’ Gary says.

Robert Trescothick, asshole.’ BBB says. ‘You might know him better as Bodmin Bob,’

Gary does not see Bob as one to co-operate with the police but then you never know, do you? There’s not a great amount of subtlety with this bunch. And, of course, they may have caught Bob red-handed doing whatever it is that he does. But who is this Clara Hess, and where does she fit in? He reflects that it is safer if for the moment he pretends he does not know Bodmin Bob. This is a miscalculation. It earns him a hefty blow to the midriff from Die Hard, who has just returned to the fray.

Look here, smartass,’ he says. ‘You have two choices. Come down to the station and tell us what you know or come down to the station and we turn off the cameras and the tape and give you a good kicking.’

At this point, Gary wants to mention solicitors, but a fist in the windpipe prevents him. There is a sudden crackle on Breaking Bad beard’s radio, an unintelligible voice barks something through the static. Die Hard turns around. BBB hollers something in a cryptic language that probably only armed officers are able to understand. It seems to hail a change of plan. Without further explanation, the SWAT team vanishes.

Did all of that really happen?’ Curnow asks.

It certainly feels like it did,’ Gary says.

Must have got the wrong house, don’t you think?’ Curnow says.

Gary is not so sure. He does not mention it to Curnow but he has the growing feeling that Suzi Foxx and Clara Hess might be one and the same. He is not even sure any more about Curnow. When something like this happens you do not know what to think. To take himself off the radar, he decides to go to stay at a local bed and breakfast until it all blows over.

When later on he sees the headline in The Cornishman, CAMBORNE RUGBY STAR FOUND DEAD ON BODMIN MOOR he begins to suspect the SWAT team’s inept raid might have been in connection with this. The report says the body of Will Wilson is believed to have been lying in the undergrowth for several days before being discovered by a local man out walking his dog. …… Wilson is believed to have been shot several times by an automatic pistol ….. Police are combing the area …… They are also investigating whether there might be a connection with the disappearance of Camborne’s other two rugby stars earlier in the season. …. No trace of them was ever found …. Anyone who might have any information that might be of help in tracing the killer is being asked to contact ………

The next few days bring some startling disclosures. Two more bodies are found on Bodmin Moor, fitting the description of John Scorer and Trev Padstow, the two missing Camborne rugby stars. Bodmin Bob is released without charge. Curnow along with Clara Hess and several others whose names are not familiar face are arrested and face charges of murder or conspiracy to commit murder. It is all over the papers. At work, they are all talking about it. There is much speculation about the possible motive. Rumours are rife. A rival rugby team, Redruth or Launceston perhaps? The Devon Mafia? A European takeover? Everyone seems to have heard a whisper somewhere.

Gary does not know how to respond. In a way, he feels very close to it all. He might have seen this coming with Suzi Foxx or Clara Hess or whoever she was, but never in a million years would he have suspected his friend, Curnow would be involved. Curnow Trevanian, the skinny lad from Tolcarne, a gunman? Unthinkable. He has known Curnow since his school days. He cannot bring himself to look at the Cornishman report and especially not the pictures of them being taken into custody.

Hands up mister,’ says a small voice behind him, as he is leaving work.

Gary turns around to see a young lad pointing a gun at him, a semi-automatic pistol. The boy is laughing. Out of the corner of his eye, he catches a glimpse of Suzi Foxx wearing a summer print dress walking towards him.

Hello Gary,’ she says sheepishly. ‘Put that thing away, Vincent! …. It’s all right, Gary. It’s not a real gun, but they look so realistic these days, don’t they? …….. Hey! I’m sorry about all the trouble that I’ve caused you. I know I shouldn’t have lied about everything. The thing is I couldn’t tell you much before because ……… Well, if you’d like to come round to my new flat later, I’ll tell you then. ……. Oh, by the way, this is my son, Vincent.’

© Chris Green 2018: All rights reserved

STRANGER

stranger2

STRANGER by Chris Green

Each time I go to Carwydden Cove, the ragamuffin stranger is there, lurking in the shadows. Major Tom, my salt and pepper schnauzer sometimes barks excitedly as we approach. He has a habit of running up to strangers to introduce himself, so I throw a stick to distract him. Something about the spectral figure suggests that he wants to be alone and I am intruding on his space. At first, I found his baleful presence intimidating but I have come round to the thinking that there must be an innocent explanation for his being on this remote stretch of beach every evening.

If he were a fugitive from justice or a paedophile, he would surely have been caught by now. Besides, if he were the latter, this would hardly be the place to come. Few children venture down to this rough shingle. Carwydden is primarily a dog beach. Perhaps he is an erstwhile mariner or a solitary poet. Whichever, he is so well camouflaged that if you were here for the first time, you would not notice him. He seems to be able to find shadow where there is none.

If I found the stranger particularly disturbing, I could easily take Major Tom for a walk up the other side of the cove. But, since my retirement, I have become a creature of habit. In fact, if I’m honest, I like to walk this way because Amy and I used to come here when we were courting. The Spring of 1961, it would have been when we met. We were sixteen. Spurs were top of the league. If I put my mind to it, I can still name the entire first team. Wooden Heart was at number one on the pop charts. Amy was a member of the Elvis Presley fan club. I took her to see Flaming Star at the Gaumont, or was it Blue Hawaii? I was more of a Cliff fan myself. The Young Ones and Summer Holiday. They were great tunes. Anyway, one time when I had my short back and sides at Reg Cropper’s, I had gotten something for the weekend and we fumbled about behind a clump of rocks. Yuri Gagarin was in space at the time I remember. Ever since then, I’ve felt an attachment to this beach. Amy, bless her heart, died three years ago from complications after a routine procedure. I was inconsolable. That’s when I got Major Tom to keep me company, what with the children grown up and long gone. But I always think of Amy when I walk this way.

I drop news of my sightings casually into my daily conversations around the village. Mrs Nancarrow in the Post Office says she sometimes goes to the beach with her pastels but has never seen him. Nor has Spike at the garage where I have the Kia serviced. Barbara from the Age UK shop, who knows everything that goes on around the area, hasn’t heard anything. My neighbours Breok and Merryn have not seen him, and my other neighbours Jack and Vera suffer from an intermittent deafness and often do not understand what I am saying. Mushtaq in the general store where I buy Major Tom’s James Wellbeloved says he hasn’t got time to go to the beach since Nasim started working at The Eden Project. No-one seems to have caught sight of my man of mystery but me. I wonder if P. C. Trescothick might know something, but after the incident with Major Tom and the sheep, I do not like to draw attention to myself.

I keep an eye on the local newspaper. I start going to the library in the nearby town to look at back copies. I remember the days when I used to take Adam and Alice there after work on a Monday when the library was open late to give Amy a break. I recall we did this for several years in our kermit-green Deux Cheveaux. I would take the opportunity look at the local paper while they were choosing their Roald Dahl or Stig of the Dump. There never seemed much to report in those days. It was a quiet backwater.

The South West Examiner today describes a different world. A serial killer who has preyed on female cab drivers has been apprehended. There is controversy over a Dial a Drink scheme being introduced where alcohol can be delivered to your door 24 hours a day. There is a story about a dancing goat that you can hire for parties and another about a woman who crashed her car while teaching her dog to drive. There are reports of chilling attacks on pensioners and a piece about nightclubs and bars being issued with cocaine-torches, that door staff can shine into clubbers faces. Microscopic particles of the drug glow green. Clubbers? The only club there used to be around here was the United Services Club. Perhaps, to boost its readership, the paper now concentrates too heavily on sensationalist stories. My friend, Mark Friday tells me some of the news might even be fake, probably most of it. He says that they lift their stories from internet sites. Whether or not this is the case, there are no reports of a furtive interloper living on a shingle beach in my neck of the woods.

Outside the library, I bump into Chas.

‘Well, fuck me on a Friday, Frank! Good to see you, mate. It’s got to be a year or two,’ he says. Chas is tilting a little. I imagine he is no longer on the wagon.

I agree it has been a long time. In fact, I haven’t seen Chas since Amy’s funeral.

He quickly confirms my suspicions about the drinking.

I’ll tell you what old mate,’ he says. ‘Come and have a beer with Lenny and me later. We’ve started going to The Francis Drake.’

The Francis Drake?’ I say. ‘You can’t be serious.’

The Francis Drake as I remember it is a bit select. Amy and I had had our silver wedding celebration there. Silver Service. Thirty pounds a head back then. Adam was going through his punk phase at the time and came in his bondage gear with his orange hair and full regalia of safety pins, embarrassing us all. It would have been hard at the time to predict that he would become a science teacher in Cumbria. Pillar of the community, married with two children and a Ford Focus. Alice’s career path has been a tad unusual. After passing her City and Guilds in the unlikely subject of Dog Grooming, she opened a Dog Spa in the Cotswolds with her friend Terry. Terry, I should add, is female. Probably no grandchildren there. I suppose my main regret is with the family so far-flung, the only time I see them is at Christmas. It can get lonely with just your own company all day long. Alice suggests I join a dating agency but I tell her I’m too long in the tooth for all of that.

Chas’s voice brings me out of my reverie.

All the other pubs around here have been turned in bistros, Frankie,’ he says. ‘You know, posh nosh for the grockles.’

But The Francis Drake is the most exclusive of all the places around here,’ I protest, looking him up and down. ‘Surely they wouldn’t let you in your tatters.’

You don’t get out a lot, Frank, do you?’ he says. The Francis Drake went into a downward spiral in the nineties. Fortune Inns, you might remember, went bust. It was empty for yonks. No one wanted it. Till The Flynns took it. Doesn’t do food any more. Well, you can get scotch eggs and crisps. Cheapest beer around here though. ….. All the holiday people go to The Buccaneer or The Jolly Slaver for their t-bone steaks or salmon in white wine sauce.’

Whole new world, isn’t it, Chas?’ I say. ‘Seems determined to leave us behind. Remember Rose Trevillick? I’ve just read in the paper that she has been fined for feeding the ducks in the park. What is going on?’

Chas does not remember Rose. Or the park.

Lenny’s doing well,’ he says. ‘He’ll be really pleased to see you. Keeps talking about the time the two of you took the boat out around the headland that really bad winter.’

Although they are both a little younger than me, I have known Lenny and Chas for over twenty years. The three of us worked shifts together at the china clay factory. Worked might be seen as a euphemism in Chas’s case. He spent most of the time at the factory avoiding it. There is no getting away from it, Chas has always been a rogue. A fabulist too. When you first meet him, you might listen to his stories with rapt attention. Junior billiards champion of the South West. A trial for Plymouth Argyle FC. Original guitarist with the Manic Street Preachers and he had a fling with Kate Bush. To look at Chas, all eighteen stone of him and not an inch over five foot five, you would have to say that this seemed unlikely. After a while, you would take anything Chas said with a pinch of salt.

Lenny, on the other hand, has always been someone on whose word you could rely. He is perhaps impressionable but, unlike Chas, he is as honest as the day is long. If, for instance, Lenny were to tell me the stranger on the beach was Lord Lampton, the peer who in the mid-eighties murdered his wife and then disappeared then I would be looking out for the droves of newspaper hacks who would be on their way. The thing is, Lenny is quite likely to come up with a story like this. Lenny’s hobby is investigating unsolved local mysteries.

Seated outside The Francis Drake, I settle Major Tom down with a pork pie and a bowl of Guinness, and Chas, Lenny and I begin to catch up. Chas tells me that he is back in the music business managing a Kinks tribute band called The Kunts – with a K. He says they are fantastic musicians and the singer looks just like Ray Davies.

Only a question of time before they make it,’ he says.

You don’t think maybe the name might be a problem,’ I say. ‘I mean, the punk era was 30 years ago.’

Not at all mate,’ Chas says. ‘The name’s awesome.’

But they will be on the tribute band circuit, won’t they?’ I say. ‘There’s a kind of respectability involved when you book a band at the local community hall.’

You know what, Frank?’ he says. ‘You worry too much.’

Chas tells me he has not had a proper job since he was laid off at the china clay factory. He signs on at two different addresses, does cash in hand felt-roofing, and sells knock-off goods and pirated DVDs at car boots. I recollect Ted at the butchers telling me he bought a box of DVDs at a car boot and that he wasn’t able to play them. Chas is so indiscreet. He spends the next ten minutes reeling of a catalogue of scams that he has been engaged in. He has no scruples. No wonder Irene divorced him.

His mobile rings. Smoke on the Water by Deep Purple. This gives Lenny the opportunity to tell me about a missing person mystery he has been working on. Ricky Geist, the Cornish actor who he says was on the verge of a career in Hollywood disappeared without trace nearly twenty years ago.

You probably don’t even remember him, do you?’ Lenny says.

I tell Lenny I have a vague recollection of someone with a name like Ricky Geist in a series called Shooting Script or something similar.

That’s the one,’ Lenny says, apparently thrilled that I can remember. ‘Ricky played Matt Black in Shooting Script. And he was in You Never Can Tell on the BBC. Not the main character admittedly but the feeling was that his star was in the ascendant. Then, just when Hollywood was considering sending its scouts over to sign him up, he disappeared. To this day, Ricky has never been found.’

I see,’ I say. I begin to wonder….. What if? Surely it couldn’t be him. Could it? I decide to hear Lenny out before interrupting.

But, over the last few months, I’ve heard there have been one or two sightings of him here in the south-west,’ he continues. ‘It’s all a little vague but who knows, perhaps it is just a question of triangulating the locations of the sightings and anticipating his next move.’

Does Chas know?’ I ask.

No. I haven’t told Chas,’ Lenny says. ‘You know what he’s like. He would ridicule the idea.’

Chas returns from his phone call, grinning all over his face.

Sorry guys,’ he says. ‘I’ve got to love you and leave you. I’ve got a date tomorrow. Better have an early night. ……… Oh, go on then! I suppose there’s time for another pint.’

For the rest of the evening, Chas regales us with a treasury of apocryphal tales. There is no chance now to tell Lenny about the mystery man on the beach so I arrange to see him the next day.

Not being used to drinking so much, I have just about recovered and taken Major Tom for a quick walk along the river bank when Lenny calls round late the following afternoon. We both blame the excess on Chas.

He’s always been that way,’ Lenny says. ‘Difficult to have just a pint or two when Chas’s around.’

Hardly likely to change now, is he?’ I say. ‘What’s this band he was talking about?’

There is no band,’ Lenny says. ‘He was just winding you up.’

What about his date then?’ I say.

Well, he seems to be seeing her today,’ Lenny says. ‘At least that’s what he says. But you can never be sure with Chas.’

Another Kate Bush perhaps?’

Lives in a fantasy world, doesn’t he?’

Always has, always will.’

Swift half?’

Why not? Hair of the dog.’

We stop off at The Francis Drake. The bar is empty. Errol, the landlord explains how he bought the place for a song, put on tap a good selection of strong ales and farmers’ cider and within a few weeks business was booming, but lately, the pub has been going down the pan. Errol blames it variously on the unnecessary restrictions on the strength of beers and ciders, the recent road closures and Brexit.

Chas Filcher is probably my best customer,’ he says. ‘And he’s seeing this new woman today, he tells me.’

Not going to bring her in here, is he?’ Lenny says.

No. I don’t believe he will,’ Errol says. ‘He said he was taking her to the races.’

Lenny and I take our beers outside and I begin to explain about the stranger on the shore. I can sense his excitement growing.

And you reckon this down-and-out might be Ricky?’ Lenny says.

I couldn’t say for sure,’ I tell him. ‘But judging by what you’ve been telling me, I think there’s a good chance it could be him.’

Well. What are we waiting for?’ he says. ‘Let’s go before someone else discovers him.’

We get into the Lenny’s Hyundai and head towards Carwydden. It is a good mile and a half from the car park down to the beach and as we make our way over the rugged terrain, Lenny chatters excitedly about his successes. His investigations have helped to locate half a dozen missing persons now and is proud of his achievements. He says it has given him a new lease of life. For once, he feels valued.

We arrive at the spot where I would normally find the stranger lurking in the shadows. I am about to point him out when I discover to my dismay, he is not there. He is nowhere to be seen. This sends me into a spin. I do my best to reassure Lenny that he will be around somewhere. We spend the next half hour scouring the shingle beach and surveying the nearby cliff paths but there is no trace of him. Not a single thing to suggest he has ever been there. I feel a burning sense of embarrassment having brought Lenny all the way out here. My apologies along with my insistence that he was here forty eight hours ago land like a lead balloon. Lenny tells me it doesn’t matter but his disappointment is palpable. As we stroll back to the car, he says with what I feel is an air of forced cheeriness, a chuckle even, that he will carry on looking for Ricky Geist. But, I get the impression he no longer requires my help to do so.

Tabloid tendencies have apparently taken over at the South West Examiner. The paper has taken to populating its pages with mindless trivia at the expense of major news. Readers are often left in the dark about important issues. The editorial staff, if indeed there are any, seem slow to pick up on big stories even when they occur close to home.

So, it’s not until a couple of days later that I discover that Lord Lampton’s battered body has been found on a nearby beach. Police are working with witness statements, the article says and are expected to make an arrest soon. I barely have chance to digest the news before the police come knocking at the door. It isn’t P. C. Trescothick and his new lad either. This pair are not from around here. They look as if they might mean business. I find to my horror they are here to arrest me for Lord Lampton’s murder.

Detective Sergeant Blunt, the tall one with the tattoos, reads me my rights.

I protest my innocence. They are quick to counter this. They tell me they have irrefutable evidence.

Witnesses from all over the village say you’ve been asking them questions about the stranger down on Carwydden beachBlunt says. ‘Mrs Nancarrow says you’ve asked her many times if she knew who the stranger was.’

Except he wasn’t a stranger, was he?’ Blunt’s colleague with the facial scar says. I did not catch this one’s name but he certainly looks like a bruiser.

I was looking for Ricky Geist,’ I say. ‘We thought the stranger on the beach might have been him.’

Would that be the same Ricky Geist who has just won a BAFTA for the acclaimed Channel 4 drama, Disappeared Without Trace?’ Facial Scar says.

What?’ I say.

Don’t you read the papers?’ he says. ‘Best Actor in a Leading Role for Disappeared Without Trace.’

Lenny, who I have always trusted implicitly wouldn’t play a prank like that on me, would he? How would even have known that I knew nothing about Ricky Geist and why did I pretend that I did? What could he gain from the deception? Unless ….

Let’s get back to the murder investigation,’ Blunt says. ‘Spike Mulligan from Trewethin’s Garage tells us you offered him money to do the deed. He says he should have come and told us at the time what you were planning but he was worried he might get detained because he had a record.

I am flabbergasted. I’ve known these people for years. Why are they incriminating me?

And your neighbours, the Duckworths tell us you kept going to Carwydden Cove looking for him,’ Blunt continues. ‘With someone called Tom.’

Major Tom,’ I say. ‘Major Tom is my dog.’

Yes, that would explain it, ‘ Blunt says. ‘Jack and Vera weren’t very clear about exactly who Tom was.

Errol and Wendy Flynn from The Francis Drake say that they heard you in their bar talking to Lenny Nice about your murder plans,’ Facial Scar says. ‘Lenny tells us that you’ve been talking about it for weeks. And we have CCTV of you doing a reccy on the area with Lenny. Lenny says you made him drive you out there at gunpoint.

Lenny, probably the most honest man in Cornwall. Lenny, my long-term partner representing The King Billy in darts tournaments. Lenny, who I saved from drowning on that trip around the headland years ago. Something is not right here. Lenny is the last person you would expect to be a backstabber. What in Heaven’s name is going on?

But, Lenny has an alibi,’ Blunt says. ‘He was with Chas Filcher at the time it happened. He says he was with him all weekend. They were fishing.

That can’t be right,’ I say. ‘Have you spoken to Chas? What does Chas say?’

Chas confirms they were fishing,Facial Scar says. ‘He also says that he doesn’t know you.’

Chas and Lenny both doing the dirty on me is not something I could imagine possible. I’ve known the pair of them for twenty years. Then, there are all the other people from the village, who have pointed the finger. People whose houses I have visited, people who have called around for drinks at Christmas, people I have chatted to in the pub. But mostly, Chas and Lenny. With friends like these, as the saying goes. ……….

Now that we’ve got all that cleared up, it’s a ride down-town in the back of the car for you,’ Blunt says. ‘As you won’t be getting bail, wed better drop the dog off at the RSPCA.’

One of the worst things about getting old is that you need lots of naps. I must have dropped off reading the Examiner. It’s here on my lap open at the story about dangerous sinkholes. Thankfully, there doesn’t appear to be anything in the paper about a body found on the beach. It might be an idea though to pop down to Carwydden later with Major Tom to make sure. Perhaps Lenny might like to come. I’d better call him to make sure he hasn’t got the hump with me. To my great relief, the Examiner has nothing about Lord Lampton or the police, just the usual rubbish about celebrity indiscretions and a story on transgender bus drivers. Fake news most of it, my friend, Mark Friday says. I don’t know where that horrible dream came from. Perhaps it was those new tablets Dr Chegwyn put me on for my arthritis.

© Chris Green 2018: All rights reserved

SURF’S UP

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SURF’S UP by Chris Green

Most people in the UK associate surfing with Newquay but Widemouth in North Cornwall was its original home. Widemouth is where the Australian pioneers of the sport came when they first arrived in the country to test the waters. Surfers will tell you that the bay has an easy paddle and peaks holding six to eight feet at mid to high tide. Black Rock at the southern end of the bay becomes wild in the winter months with a hollow and powerful reef break reaching ten or twelve feet on a good north-westerly swell. These huge waves were the main attraction for our Antipodean friends, who loved to show off their skills. Before his premature death in 1963, at the age of twenty three, local lad, Mawgan Tresco loved surfing here. Mawgan was able to negotiate the largest breakers with grace and dexterity. Apparently, crowds gathered on the beach in all winds and weathers to watch his exploits.

No-one knows the reason why one frosty night in December 1963, Mawgan took his Norton Dominator out on the windy coastal road. It was to be his last trip on the powerful machine. Big speeds, black ice and a brick wall saw to that. Some say that Mawgan had started taking amphetamines. But, where he might have found amphetamines in rural Cornwall is hard to say. His friend, Jago remembers a meeting Mawgan had with a well-dressed geezer from out of town and wonders if this might be connected with his fatal ride. He adds that Mawgan modelled himself on James Dean. Perhaps he harboured something of a death wish.

Recordings Mawgan Tresco made on a reel to reel tape recorder shortly before he died show that he was also a talented musician. He sang and played lead guitar in The New, a band whose grungy sound was years ahead of its time. As was their name. Back then, group names were still plurals, The Shadows, The Drifters, The Ventures, etc. The New had somehow anticipated the trend for singular band names, The Who, The Move, Cream. Had they lived anywhere else but Cornwall, they would have made it big but Cornwall back then was a cultural desert, hardly the best place to be for upcoming pop groups, hoping to get noticed. Yet, someone from the music business must have come across The New. Perhaps a Soho impresario on holiday with his family in the south west found himself at one of the gigs they performed in village halls and thought to himself, I’ll use this because a year or so later The Kinks were playing one of Mawgan’s edgy riffs on You Really Got Me and soon after, Pete Townshend and Jeff Beck were using Mawgan’s feedback technique, passing it off as their own creation. The general public may not realise it yet but sixties rock and even heavy metal and punk owe a great debt to Mawgan Tresco’s guitar strangling on those early recordings. The Troggs’ Wild Thing is easily recognisable from Mawgan’s, Wild Nights and Purple Haze is virtually a note for note copy of Mawgan’s, Hazy Days. On Mawgan’s death, the band, acknowledging that he had been the songwriter and driving force, split and persevered with their day jobs.

‘That’s what we have so far,’ Macy Reno says. With no films currently in production, Macy is trying to thrash out the screenplay for Surf’s Up with his screenwriter, Dirk Van Dijk. Having worked closely on the script, Dirk will already be aware of the details. Macy’s summary must be for my benefit. My name is Chance Hacker. I am a rookie film editor sitting in to advise on possible continuity issues. I am new to the project and I’m not completely sure why I’m here. Normally a continuity editor wouldn’t be needed until after filming had begun.

‘Sure, it’s got surfing and music going for it but we are still talking rural Cornwall in the early sixties,’ Macy says. ‘And Joe Pub will not have heard of Mawgan Tresco. Not going to pull them in necessarily, is it, Dirk?’

‘You don’t like what I’ve written?’ Dirk says. Apparently, he has submitted numerous drafts now. I detect that all is not well between the pair. I say nothing. Let them settle their differences first.

‘To be honest, Dirk, the script is a bit ……. downbeat,’ Macy says.

I’m inclined to agree with him. In these days of CGI and superheroes, you need something sensational to sell a film. This is not the time to wheel out plodding parochial dramas.

‘Perhaps we should change the location to attract the big distributors,’ Macy continues. ‘What do you think? …… California?’

‘If you do that, you lose the story,’ Dirk says. ‘Surfing and California. Been done to death. Besides, the main focus here is surely the unlikely rural origins of the heavy guitar riff. We could concentrate more on the soundtrack.’

‘But we do need to big it up a bit,’ Macy says. ‘Come on now, Dirk. What have you got?’

They seem to be at odds with one another. Dirk writes dialogue, Macy wants pictures. Dirk writes realism, Macy wants surrealism. They are going round in circles. Perhaps I’ll have a go at something myself. …….. After all, I know how to research. I did a degree in Creative Writing. Well, Pulp Fiction. OK, I didn’t finish it, things got in the way. But, I’ve had dozens of stories published in Schlock magazines. I’m not sure how I ended up in film editing. It’s not where my heart is. I’d rather be writing. It would be nice to have a screenwriter’s credit.

‘What about a sliding doors moment?’ Dirk says. ‘A pivotal scene where the plot could go one way or the other. And then we could run the two narratives alternately.’

‘Perhaps more of a forking paths moment.’

‘Isn’t that the same thing?’

‘Not really. I’m thinking of a Borges scenario.’

‘Hey?’

‘Jorge Luis Borges, the writer of Labyrinths. His story where the protagonist comes to a fork in the road and instead of going one way or the other takes both paths simultaneously. Perhaps we could keep forking the paths and have endless split screen shots.’

‘Might be a hard slog ….. well, for me, the writer, for instance.’

I am thinking Dirk should count himself lucky, it will be a harder slog for me, the editor. Hopefully, Macy will realise the impracticalities. When you read a novel or indeed a work of non-fiction, if there is still such a thing in these post-truth times, and then see a film based on the book, you can’t help but notice subtle differences. You may prefer the novel. Or you might prefer the film. Most people are likely to say they prefer the novel. The director’s job is therefore not easy. He has to condense the novel into an acceptable length for the film so he needs to be creative. This can make an arty director like Macy Reno, who relies on his eccentricity, more prone to flights of fancy. Not that flights of fancy are altogether a bad thing. But, at the same time as being creative, the director needs to keep it simple. The attention span of cinema-goers today is slight. You need to put in some narrative redundancy so they can check their phones. I recommend a comic book approach.

Or he could have a doppelgänger or a series of doppelgängers,’ Macy says. ‘Split screen would work here too.’

I’m thinking split screen is hopelessly dated. Surely an innovative director like Macy realises he needs to move with the times. ……. There again, perhaps it would help give a retro feel to the film.

‘And being Cornwall,’ he continues. ‘We could maybe have Mawgan drawn into a sinister cult of fly agaric mushroom worshippers.’

‘Didn’t you do something like that in the last film?’ Dirk says. ‘The one about the exploding hedgehogs.’

Turbulence wasn’t about exploding hedgehogs. There was just a scene in it where a hedgehog explodes. And it is was central to the plot. Anyway, that was a cactus worshipping sect.’

‘Yes, I think I remember now. It was all to do with that sinister high pitched hum that was spreading across the country.’

‘If you remember, the sound was the rotation of the earth slowing down.’

Perhaps it was misleading to advertise it as being based on a true story.’

If you ever you come across the phrase, based on a true story, in relation to a film, read it as bears no resemblance to the original. Whatever the genre. This is one of the first things you learn in Film Appreciation 101.

‘Or maybe the villagers could be pagan cultists,’ Macy continues. ‘You know like The Wicker Man. Always in top ten British films, that one.’

‘I suppose you are talking about a small rural community at a time when there was not much going on,’ Dirk says. ‘It’s the right setting, but …… ‘

‘What about vampires? They are always good box office.’

‘Didn’t you have vampires in In the Dead of Night.’

‘No. That was zombies. I’ve never had vampires.’

‘You know, Macy. I’m wondering if perhaps we’ve got enough of a story already,’ Dirk says. ‘We’ve got a dazzling surfer, not to mention the musician who gave us modern rock music,’

Dirk has hit the nail on the head. Certainly, we need to emphasise the dark parts more, bring in a menacing villain or two and big up the love interest, but let’s keep to the point. Leif Velásquez displayed similar hyperbolic tendencies when I was working with him on Friday the Thirteenth. He suggested we run the filmed footage backwards and not in a Benjamin Button kind of way. The film would have been a box office disaster. For his epic State of Mind, I had to talk Leif out of using Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle to plot the action. Great idea but too highbrow.

As Macy and Dirk don’t seem to be able to agree on anything, I decide to get cracking on some research towards my own screenplay. It doesn’t start well. I discover that Macy has been sitting on the project for years and most of those who might remember Mawgan are now dead and gone. Mrs Trescothick from the Women’s Institute remembers him as a shy boy who used to talk to cats and his old schoolmistress, centurion, Miss Penhaligon says he used to masturbate in class. None of his surfing contemporaries are around and I find nothing that sheds fresh light on Mawgan’s fatal ride. For all I know, he may have been riding a Honda 50. Or not gone out at all. While surfing is still going strong in Widemouth, all that is left to remember Mawgan’s efforts are a few black and white photos on the wall in a Widemouth beach café and these grainy images could have been of any surfer. I can see why Macy did not want to run it as it was. It would have been dull. Nor do I manage to find out how Mawgan’s songs got into the wrong hands. Nor is there any proof that he actually wrote them. No choice then but to embellish the story. Start from scratch even.

Then I have a stroke of luck. It seems far more sinister things were happening in the pop world than a few of Macy’s tunes being copied. News is breaking that many of the big hits back then were hyped up the charts by Wardour Street racketeer, Vito Gunn. Vito arranged for his associates to buy dozens of copies from each of the stores that put in returns for the charts up and down the country but he quickly realised that on a weekly basis this could become expensive so he dispensed with this nicety. Instead, he told the stores what numbers to put into their returns with the threat of sending in the boys if they didn’t. It worked. He only had to send the boys in once. Acts as unlikely as Brian Poole and the Tremeloes or The Dave Clark Five had number one hits. I mean, Glad All Over, really!

Hyping worthless tunes by talent-free groups up the charts became standard practice in the mid-sixties. Vito and fellow racketeer who went by the name of Maltese Fred quickly had the market sewn up. Between the two of them, they dictated what was played on the radio and who appeared on TV pop shows. The only surprise is that given the throwaway nature of some of the number one hits the story has taken so long to come to light. Surely people must have had their suspicions that something was amiss.

But, what about Mawgan Tresco’s tunes being stolen? This is not quite the same. I have actually heard Wild Nights and Hazy Days. They were transformed into Wild Thing and Purple Haze. Whether Mawgan actually wrote them or nor, these were important developments in rock music. Might Vito Gunn have been the mysterious geezer from out of town that Mawgan’s friend Jago referred to? We may never know but it hardly matters if it isn’t true. Vito is dead now. Alternatively, we could just make someone up. I’m pretty sure we will be able to create a credible character profile of a morally bankrupt sixties music mogul. A gun-toting Soho kiddie-fiddler perhaps or a Neo-Dickensian Reggie Kray. The badder the better. After all, it’s villains that put bums on seats in cinemas these days as much as heroes. Think Darth Vader, The Terminator, Hannibal Lecter. If you have a goodie in a movie then for balance you are going to need a baddie. It’s rule one of drama.

Macy phones to tell me that Dirk is off the film. Irreconcilable differences, he says, Dirk’s just not adventurous. I tell him not to worry, I have some ideas. I already have the music part of the film sketched out, I tell him. He is excited by my new discoveries about the sixties underworld and says we can definitely factor the gangland corruption into the script. We arrange a meeting. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from working with Macy Reno and Leif Velásquez, it is that truth has nothing whatsoever to do with movie making. It gets in the way. You can write whatever you want about anyone, dead or alive and make a film of it. No-one is going to come after you with lawsuits. Not even the Royals. Look at all those potentially libellous films about them and not a dickie bird.

Carte blanche, then. I quickly put together a script where our young British rock and roller gets fleeced by transsexual Bethnal Green gangster, Vito Gunn then in a turf war is taken out by Maltese Fred’s hitman, Harvey Wallbanger. All I need to do now is introduce the demon surfer from Hell, the badder the better, to spar with our protagonist and add a little love interest, perhaps a salacious, suntanned Californian Baywatch babe who just happens to find herself marooned in nineteen sixties Cornwall after a time travel experiment went wrong.

By the time I am finished, I will have transformed a forgotten Cornish surfer who wrote a couple of grungy rock songs and may or may not have crashed his bike on a dark night in December into a legend of biblical proportions, a veritable superhero with arcane powers. Mawgan’s death then would be by no means the end. I could leave room for his mystical return in a sequel. Maybe later we might turn it in into an adult cartoon series. Mawgan Tresco could become a comic book hero. Fortunes are made from small beginnings. You have to speculate to accumulate. You are probably beginning to notice the Mawgan Tresco merchandise in the shops. There will be a lot more when Surf’s Up comes out.

© Chris Green 2017: All rights reserved

Best Kept Secret

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Best Kept Secret by Chris Green

‘Van Morrison wanted to be a vet,’ the man says.

‘Who?’ says the girl, not looking up from the book she is reading.

‘Van Morrison, you know. Brown Eyed Girl, Bright Side Of The Road.’

‘Oh! Him!’ the girl says, hoping this will put an end to the conversation. She is not here to listen to geeky middle-aged men in paisley shirts talking about portly crooners. She has aspirations. She just needs a little down time at the moment to get over a disappointment.

‘When he was at school he wanted to be a vet. Then his father bought him a saxophone.’

‘That’s nice,’ says the girl, pulling her black sunglasses down from their resting place on her forehead.

The man doesn’t take the hint. ‘I was using 50 gigabytes a week just browsing on my iphone and I was texting and messaging non-stop.’ he continues. ‘What about you? Tracey, isn’t it?’

‘I think I was probably on more than that,’ says Tracey. ‘If I had used it any more they would have had to surgically remove the phone. Now. …… Can I get back to my book?’

‘I don’t know how I became so addicted,’ Dirk says. ‘I’m more of an outdoor person really.’

Tracey continues to blank him.

‘In the end, I had to bite the bullet and come along here,’ he says. He doesn’t tell her that his partner, Domino was knocked down texting a friend while crossing a busy London thoroughfare. Domino died from the injuries she sustained. Although this was six months ago Dirk can’t bring himself to talk about it. Instead, he continues to elaborate on his own habit, which through his days and nights of loneliness became worse.

‘When I wasn’t on the phone,’ he says. ‘I was on the tablet. When I wasn’t on the tablet I was on the phone. I took it to bed. I had an app to wake me if there were any status updates, another to tell me if I had any messages, another to let me know if I had any tweets. In the end, I was awake all night. I don’t like being awake all night.’

He awaits some kind of a response. It is not forthcoming.

‘Unless of course it’s with someone nice,’ he adds, boldly. ‘I’m Dirk by the way.’

Tracey doesn’t respond. She feels he is getting more creepy by the minute. Why is it that men feel that she is another country to be conquered or colonised?

They are at Best Kept Secret, a digital detox retreat in Cornwall. There is no phone signal here and no wifi. You would have to drive several miles to get any kind of reception on your device. It is in fact so remote that even the postman has trouble finding it. In addition, no TVs or radios are allowed here. You are permitted to bring just two books for a week long stay. The centre has the express aim of changing people’s habits. Best Kept Secret goes one step further than Unplugged Weekend, reSTART and other establishments dealing with internet addiction disorder. It is not interested in weekenders. It is so serious in its aims that during your stay it doesn’t allow you off site. They store your car keys in a safe in case you are tempted to leave.

‘Katie …. Price,’ Dirk reads from the cover of the novel that Tracey is holding aloft. ‘The …. Comeback ….. Girl. Is it good?’

‘I’m enjoying it, yes,’ says Tracey.

‘I’m reading Van Morrison’s biography,’ he says. ‘You can borrow it when I’ve finished if you like.’

‘Well, Dirk, did you say? Perhaps, Dirk, you might want to get back to it and let me get on with my novel.’

‘Have you reached an exciting bit?’ he asks.

Tracey ignores him. She pulls her faux leather jacket around her to cover her cleavage and turns away.

Dirk looks around for someone else to talk to. There is no-one. Some of the guests are in the life drawing class and some are in the Pilates session. Others are in NLP therapy or else in the quiet meditation room. A couple of them are in physiotherapy for RSI. Dirk finds the whole atmosphere of withdrawal within the centre claustrophobic. He prefers it out here on the patio. He can listen to the birdsong and take in the aroma of wild roses and pennyroyal.

……………………………………………………

Although one usually thinks in terms of videos, anything can go viral on the Internet. Whether it’s a photo, an animation, an article, a quote, a tweet, a person, an animal, an idea, an argument, a coupon or an upcoming event, virtually anything that is shareable can go viral. Such is the power of hyperspace. All it takes is a handful of shares on social media and the right target audience to trigger an avalanche of sharing. There are slow burners like Gangham style or the ice bucket challenge and then there are those like Je Suis Charlie that are worldwide phenomena within a matter of hours. News items flash round the globe. If the American President were shot it is reckoned that three quarters of the people in the world would know about it within fourteen minutes.

This is of course under normal circumstances. As it happens the American President has not been shot but the transatlantic internet pipeline that joins Europe to the US has been down for two days. This is unprecedented. The world is waiting for something to happen. The crisis has generated record sales of newspapers but they have no news. Instead, there is a wealth of speculation. There are suggestions that terrorism is behind the breach in the pipeline. The Telegraph says it has all the hallmarks of a jihadist attack. The Guardian maintains that they had seen it coming and offers a lengthy analysis of the Dark Internet. The Sun blames it on aliens. The Daily Express is torn between blaming in on illegal immigrants and the storms we are about to have. The Mail doesn’t refer to it concentrating instead on house prices and asylum seekers.

…………………………………………………………….

Dirk is unaware of the turn of events in the wider world. He doesn’t know that there has been a hiccup in hyperspace. All he knows is that he is completely at a loss in the non-digital world. Without his devices, he finds it difficult to bond with the others at the centre. Most of them seem to come from the corporate world, whilst he is a bit of a dreamer. He has always eked a living in the margins of society, drifting aimlessly from one job to another. Domino shared his alternative views. The irony of her demise is that she was an eco-campaigner, she hardly used her phone. It was always him, Dirk, who was seduced by the technology. Life is full of contradictions.

Being in the confines of the centre has only served to remind him how much he misses Domino. Some of the others at Best Kept Secret have managed to find a modicum of solace in treatment or quiet contemplation, but he has not. In three days there he has become increasingly restless and edgy. He is desperate for some human contact, some love and understanding.

Tracey has now finished both her Katie Price and her Kerry Katona novels and Dirk finds her once again on the patio. This time, without anything to read she is staring into space.

‘It is against the law to have a pet dog in Iceland,’ Dirk says, hoping that Tracey might either be a dog lover or a dog hater in which case he has interesting facts about cats at the ready.

Tracey does not seem to have a view about the Nordic lack of tolerance for man’s best friend. She continues to stare into space. This provides a cue for Dirk to play his cat card and also refer to Tracey’s gaze.

‘The first cat in space was a French cat named Félicette in 1963,’ he says. ‘She was black and white.’

Tracey has no view about feline celebrities.

Dirk has other facts at his fingertips. Before he came in here, he often spent the whole day browsing trivia sites. He is about to tell Tracey that Coca-Cola would be green if colouring weren’t added to it, when they are joined on the patio by Echo.

Echo looks tanned and sporty and is probably nearer his age than Tracey. She has beautiful brown eyes and a winning smile. He feels he might be able to get along with Echo. And, what a great name! He first noticed her when she arrived in a brightly coloured VW camper earlier. She came straight over to him and introduced herself. He was further encouraged when they both showed a preference for the mung bean dahl over the oatmeal power bowl at lunch, and, he might have imagined it, but didn’t she compliment him on his floral print shirt? She seems more relaxed than most of the burnt out event organisers and ad executives inside. It is hard to imagine that she has internet addiction disorder. She is even able to keep from fidgeting her fingers.

Without a device to play with, most of the others, himself included, do not know what to do with their hands. This is one of the often overlooked difficulties of digital device withdrawal. They don’t tell you about all of the side effects associated with internet addiction disorder when you arrive. Some are fiddling with their spectacles, their zips, their shoelaces, or rearranging the salt and pepper pots and the cutlery on the table. Dirk has found himself playing a lot with the loose change in his pocket.

Following her break up with Blake, the last thing Echo needs is another alpha male who has to be the centre of attention. Nor does she want someone who will stare with wonder at her hair or hang on her every word. She is looking for a sensitive man who will understand her needs. She looks Dirk up and down. They smile at one another.

‘What is your favourite Dr Seuss book?’ she asks.

It is not a question that Dirk has often been asked but as the only one that he knows is The Cat In The Hat, this is his answer.

‘You’ve not read The Butter Battle Book then,’ Echo says. ‘Because that is clearly better.’

‘What’s it about?’ asks Dirk. He is anxious to keep this conversation going.

‘It is about a land where two hostile cultures, the Yooks and the Zooks,’ says Echo. ‘They live on opposite sides of a long curving wall. The Yooks wear blue clothes and the Zooks wear orange. The dispute between the two cultures is that the Yooks eat their bread with the butter-side up, while the Zooks eat their bread with the butter-side down. The conflict between the two sides leads to an arms race where each comes up with ever more deadly weapons, the result of which is mutually assured destruction.’

‘There is a moral to the tale then,’ says Dirk. ‘I will have to read it when I get out of here. I’ve nearly finished Van Morrison’s biography, so it’s a shame that I didn’t know about it before I signed up.’

‘Van Morrison. You like Van Morrison?’

‘Well yes. I do, rather.’

‘I adore Van Morrison,’ says Echo.

‘That’s great. Only some women find him ….. a little …..’

‘Dreamy?’

‘No, not exactly.’

‘Transcendental?’

‘No. ….. I was going to say, shouty. Some women find him a little shouty.’

‘Surely not,’ says Echo. ‘Van is the man.’

‘Well, it’s a marvellous night for a moondance.’

‘It’s the middle of the day,’ says Echo. ‘But you are right. Why not?’

…………………………………………………………….

It seems improbable that all the global communication pipelines could be breached at the same time. There are over three hundred different submarine cables, spanning every ocean. But, this is what appears to be happening. One by one they are failing. With just the transatlantic pipelines out, the possibility of some kind of rational explanation remained, excessive movement in a major tectonic plate causing sudden or greater than expected continental drift perhaps. But, what about those spanning the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean? The likelihood of the failings being from natural causes has now completely disappeared. There must be a more sinister explanation. And what is happening to the satellites in orbit? Little by little the digital world is breaking up. Sabres rattle, but then this is nothing new. Power struggles seem to be part of the human condition. The internet pipeline crisis is unlikely to fuel much of a conflict as most of the weapon systems will no longer function.

While across the board the younger generation starts to experience withdrawal symptoms, many of the older generation can remember that just twenty or so years ago, there was no internet. Perhaps it is a case of selective memory, but many reflect that life was better. Things were simpler. There was not the urgency to be in communication with everyone all the time. You could put things off, chill out. Up and down the country older people begin to experience a feeling of relief that they do not have to check their missed calls and emails, respond to social media statuses or put updates on to their computers. Before all this technology took hold, things still got done. In many ways it was easier to get things done. Back then there were a few mobile phones, but all you could do with them was make person to person calls. And you had to be in range. And even then you had to shout loudly. And they were not what you would call compact. You would have difficulty getting one in your jacket pocket.

…………………………………………………………….

‘Do you know. I don’t miss my devices at all,’ says Dirk. They are about to leave Best Kept Secret after their stay. Dirk has been there ten days and Echo a week.

‘Nor do I,’ says Echo. ‘I don’t think I will even switch my phone back on.’

‘Better off without them. I’ll think I will give my tablet away.’

‘Gives you a different perspective on life doesn’t it?

‘What does?’

The freedom to say no.’

‘Not that you did too much of that.’

‘Ha, ha,’ says Echo, hitting him on the arm with her Quicksilver backpack.

‘Just think of all those poor people that still have to grapple with that insane deluge of trash in their feeds day in day out.’

‘They will find out one day …… or not.’

‘Anyway, here we are, footloose and fone free,’ says Dirk.

‘Shall we go surfing to celebrate?’ says Echo. ‘Summerleaze Beach, I think would be good. It’s west facing. The swell should be just right.’

‘Don’t know it,’ says Dirk. ‘Is it far?’

‘It’s north of here. It’s near Bude,’ says Echo.

‘Bude? Isn’t that where the secret listening base intercepts the traffic from the transatlantic internet pipeline?’ says Dirk.

‘You are still doing it,’ says Echo. ‘You have to let go of all this mental floss.’

‘But don’t you wonder what’s been happening in the world while we’ve been in there?’

‘Same old, I should think. Political posturing, smouldering racism, celebrity indiscretions. Nothing ever changes really does it.’

‘You’re right.’ says Dirk. ‘Let’s go and get some air into our lungs.’

‘Then perhaps we can book into that nice hotel that looks out on to the ocean,’ says Echo. ‘And you can show me that thing you want to do with dark chocolate.’

© Chris Green 2016: All rights reserved